Cos Music (cosmusic) wrote,
Cos Music
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Alison Brown Quartet with Joe Craven

    Alison Brown Quartet with Joe Craven
    Thursday, May 5th, 8:00pm
    Musuem of our National Heritage
    33 Marrett Road / Route 2A, Lexington MA
    781-861-6559
    general seating, all ages, $15 advance (or $18 day of show)
    tickets at compassrecords.com or 800-757-2277
I no longer have a single clear favorite musician, but when I did most recently, it was banjo player and composer Alison Brown. And her album Look Left still has a guaranteed place in any all-time top ten list of albums I ever make.

Alison's technical skill is on the level of people like Béla Fleck, Tony Trischka, and Bill Keith. Unlike Béla, her shows and recordings are not about displaying technical skill, though. What I love about her, first, are the tunes she composes. And second, the places she's taken the banjo musically.

She started out in bluegrass. In 1991, as the banjo player for Alison Krauss' band Union Station, she became the first woman ever to be selected IBMA Banjo Player of the Year, one of the highest honors in bluegrass. She left union station and has recorded 8 albums under her own name. The first two, Simple Pleasures and Twilight Motel, featured the David Grisman Quintet as her studio band, and had a Grismanesque "new acoustic" feel, blending bluegrass, latin, folk, and other influences through Alison's compositions and arrangments. For her third, Look Left, she found some of her favorite musicians in the world, and composed pieces for them to play with her on their signature instruments: Andy Narell on steel drums, Seamus Eagan on flute, an amazing banjo-digeridoo piece titled "Deep North"... it's the first truly world music album I know of with the banjo as a lead instrument on every track.

By then, she had formed a regular jazz quartet to tour with, and began recording CDs with them: Alison Brown Quartet, Out of the Blue, and the live album Replay. In between, she put together a bluegrass all-star band for Fair Weather. Her 8th album, Stolen Moments (available May 10th), features,
    [...] bluegrass greats Sam Bush (mandolin) and Stuart Duncan (fiddle) as well as Irish mavericks John Doyle (guitar) and Seamus Egan (flute), ex-Pretenders and Paul McCartney Band guitarist Robbie McIntosh and long time bandmate John R. Burr (piano). Also featured on the album are guest vocalists the Indigo Girls, Beth Nielsen Chapman, Mary Chapin Carpenter and Andrea Zonn.
Alison Brown and her husband Garry West, who plays bass in her quartet, co-founded and co-own Compass Records, an independent label focusing on music they like - mostly roots, celtic, folk, bluegrass, country, and world. I once told Alison I wanted to subscribe to Compass's new releases, because I'd never heard an album they put out that I wouldn't want to buy (she responded by sending me a box of all 50 of their albums at the time). Alison also invented and co-developed a new instrument, the nylon string banjo, for some tunes where she'd like to play a banjo but get a warmer jazz guitar sound.

Oh, and I can't forget her titles - that's another thing I love about her. On her first recording, a duo with fiddler Stuart Duncan recorded before the Union Station days, she's got tunes like "Possum Gravy on Grandma's Beard" and "The Great Lasagna Rebellion." After the band had an unpleasant stay with her grandmother's dog, she wrote a fast-paced bluegrass tune called "Shoot the Dog". She wrote a tune for NASA astronaut Marsha Ivins called "My Favorite Marsha" - which NASA then used as wake-up music for the astronauts on a space shuttle mission.

Alison Brown Quartet will perform at the Museum of our National Heritage in Lexington, MA, this Thursday evening. Playing with them will be Joe Craven, the incredible percussionist and fiddler from the David Grisman Quintet. To Joe, any object is a musical instrument. He's particularly good at playing his head, and I've seen him carry tunes on a simple shaker. Joe Craven was one of the studio musicians on Alison Brown's first two CDs, and there's a tune called Sundaze that I particularly love, and have never seen performed live, because it's not possible to play it without him. I hold out some hope that maybe this time I'll finally get to see it.

The regular quartet is Alison on banjo and guitar; her husband Garry West on bass; pianist John R. Burr - who is uncannily adept at adapting fiddle lines from bluegrass tunes to the piano; and drummer Kendrick Freeman. [EDIT: they apparently have a new drummer, as of about a year ago]

The show is this Thursday evening - wanna come?
Tags: alison brown, bluegrass, david grisman, jazz, joe craven, monh
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